It’s Sunday before Christmas. Today, I am meeting A., a refugee from Iraq. I got to know him on Tinder, right before I gave up on the app as a dating opportunity. A. has been living in Hamburg for 3 months. His profile says he is looking to make new friends. He tells me that his family is still in Bagdad and he’s quite uncomfortable at the refugee home where he shares a room with people who like to drink. A. doesn’t drink, although many muslims do. He’s very friendly, asking for my favourite colours or TV shows to watch in German. He’s eager to learn. We switch from English to German and back. Every day, he shows me what he learned in his German class, never really proud of himself although he should be. He shows me how to spell my name in Arabic. After a week, we’ve got our first inside jokes. He asks when he’ll get to meet me, but he doesn’t push. I’ve got a stressful two weeks at work, but eventually, I really want to get to know him in person. When I go to meet him, I take my pepper spray.
Yes, I am prejudiced. Prejudice means judging something before you get to know it – based on what people say, based on what the media say, and eventually, based on fear. Reports of street robberies, rapes in refugee homes, or even just women being shoved back in cafeterias simply because they are women, got to me. I am a single girl with no black belt, of course I am afraid to meet a complete stranger on my own, especially when they are from a cultural context which I know does not always value men and women equally. But I also know that those horrible incidents have to be isolated cases. I am not usually someone to judge people in groups. I don’t want to project my fears on an entity that is, eventually, only imaginary. Refugee or non-refugee, we’re all just humans.
The fatal thing is that so many people stop at the point of prejudice; believing their judgement can be trusted, spreading it as ultimate truth. And there goes the circle of fear and hatred. The fear of the unknown, and the speculations that result from not knowing, are human. But just like any other type of fear, prejudice is there to be challenged and overcome. I did not believe that the people who seek asylum in Germany are generally criminals, thieves, or even rapists. I knew, just from common sense, that this could in no way be true. But it’s hard to reason when “they” are just as abstract a mass to me as they are to the neo-Nazis who burn down their shelters in blind hatred. Turn it around: I am as German as those right-wing idiots are, but I don’t want to be put into one category with them, either. That is why I am ashamed to have this irrationally uneasy feeling in my gut: It feels like applauding the racists – in spite of knowing better. And that is also why I go to meet A. anyway.
I arrive at the café 15 minutes early, so I already go in to find seats. He comes in two minutes later and apologizes for being late. We shake hands. Communication is hard at first, so we’re both a bit awkward. He speaks very quietly. Then he insists on paying for my tea, which makes me really uncomfortable. But denying him the pleasure of inviting me, I guess, would be just as wrong. We talk just like we chatted: Half German, half English. Like before, he asks me polite questions about my family, my job, my hobbies and my plans for Christmas. We talk about Hamburg, his family in Iraq, and the job he is going to have from January. He then shows me a video of the boat he took from Turkey to Greece this summer. “It was difficult” is the only critical remark I hear, then he talks about the friends he made on the journey. He wants to know the German names of everything on the table. Then he says I look different from my Tinder photos. “You know, in this one-” he shows me a photo, “you look… I don’t know the word!” He holds his arms at some distance from his body. The symbol for ‘big’ seems to be international. He looks at me with such an innocent smile, it makes me laugh. “What!” When we have finished our drinks, we walk around the Christmas market, where I explain the names of all the stuff that is sold in the little tents. Eventually, we head back to the tube station, stopping at the escalator that will take him to his train.
When he shakes my hand again, we both say “Thank you.”